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Kiwi linguist’s concern at heritage language report

Press Release – Massey University

New migrants should be supported to speak their own language to ensure their children develop a strong cultural identity, says a Massey University linguist critical of a government report on the subject. August 11, 2014

Linguist’s concern at heritage language report

New migrants should be supported to speak their own language to ensure their children develop a strong cultural identity, says a Massey University linguist critical of a government report on the subject.

Dr Arianna Berardi-Wiltshire says a recent Internal Affairs report, Language and Integration in New Zealand, gives the wrong message by emphasising a negative correlation between maintaining a heritage language [mother tongue] and gaining proficiency in English.


Why is Cultural uniformity dangerous?

Cultural diversity is presented as the antithesis of cultural uniformity.

Some (including UNESCO) fear this hypothesis of a trend towards cultural uniformity. To support this argument they emphasize different aspects:

• The disappearance of many languages and dialects, regarding for example the languages of France, without legal status or protection (Basque, Breton, Corsican, Occitan, Catalan, Alsatian, Flemish, Poitou, Saintonge, etc.).

• Anxiety of people on the preservation of their traditions as in New Zealand, coastal regions in Australia, North America, Central America;

• Increasing cultural preeminence of the United States through the distribution of its products in film, television, music, clothing and nutritional products promoted in audio-visual media, consumer products virtually standardized on the planet (pizza, restaurants, fast food, etc..).

There are several international organizations that work towards protecting threatened societies and cultures, including Survival International and UNESCO.


Lack of languages stifles Brits and Americans

Why learn a second language if everyone speaks English? To better understand a culture, or boost your employability in the global economy, finds a Guardian roundtable

Will English remain the global lingua franca forever, or are monoglots putting themselves at a disadvantage? Photograph: Alamy

Club football managers talk to players in it, scientific researchers email each other in it, global businesses negotiate in it. When even the European Central Bank chooses English as its main language, despite the UK being outside the euro, why should British or American school kids bother learning anything else?

That was the question put to a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the Guardian and British Academy in association with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The discussion brought together leading policymakers, academics and industry representatives from both sides of the Atlantic to address the language-learning deficit in English-speaking countries and try to work out what to do about it.

The British Academy's report, Languages: the State of the Nation, published in February 2013, discovered "strong evidence of a growing deficit in foreign language skills at a time when globally the demand for languages is expanding" in the UK. A follow up report, Lost for Words, published last November, found deficits in foreign language skills within the government threatened the UK's future security and capacity for global influence.


What Language Should I Learn?

Learning a new language is an enriching and rewarding experience. It opens so many doors, professionally and personally. And, in a society where only 18 percent of our native-born adult population speaks a second language, it can give us access to opportunities that our peers can only dream of. Multilingualism is not only professionally advantageous, but also improves mental agility, memory, and problem solving ability, and slows down the onset of age-related cognitive losses.

But learning a language is a commitment. It takes years to become truly proficient, and even then there will be yet more to learn. (I'm still learning new words and cultural references in English, and I've been speaking it since I was in diapers.)

So learn a language! There's so much to gain!

But first, think about which language will help you achieve your goals, and what learning opportunities are available to you. It all begins with just two questions: What to learn and how to learn it.

Question 1: What do you want to use your language for?

If you want to speak to a lot of people, look at which languages are widely spoken around the world (Some of them might surprise you!) or in your neck of the woods.


How To (Really) Learn A Foreign Language While You Sleep

The old saying that we can solve problems more effectively when we “sleep on it” may be especially true if the problem we’re trying to solve is learning a new language.

Researchers from two Swiss universities wanted to know if they could enhance the learning of words from a foreign language by exposing people to the words during non-rapid eye movement sleep (NonREM sleep) – the deep, dreamless sleep period that most of us experience during the first few hours of the night.

To find out, they gathered two groups of study participants, all of whom were native German speakers, and gave them a series of Dutch-to-German word pairs to learn at 10 pm. One group was then instructed to get some sleep, while the other group was kept awake. For the next few hours both groups listened to an audio playback of the word pairs they’d already been exposed to and some they hadn’t yet heard.

The researchers then re-gathered both groups at 2 am and gave them a test of the Dutch words to uncover any differences in learning.


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